Mixed Reactions Over Reparations

By Abdoulie John

The issue of reparations for victims of human rights violations continues has drawn mixed reactions ahead of The Gambia’s launch of the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission (TRRC). The debate has left Gambians wondering whether legal justice should supercede social justice or vice versa.

The Executive Secretary of the TRRC, Dr. Baba Galleh Jallow said reparations may be financial compensation, rehabilitation, return of property and symbolic measures including apologies to victims or the erection of memorials.
Dr. Jallow’s statement was delivered at the end of a three-day training session on conflict sensitive media coverage in transitional justice process held at Kairaba Beach hotel. Organised by the Ministry of Justice in partnership with International IDEA and ECOWAS, the training brought together media practitioners from various news outlets and members of civil society groups.
“In terms of the Gambian situation, the TRRC is empowered to grant reparations to people who are considered by the commission worthy of reparations,” Dr. Jallow said, seizing the opportunity to highlight the specificity of the Gambian Model. The Gambians Model is unlike the commissions established in South Africa and other countries which were only mandated to make recommendations for reparations.
Jallow added that the other uniqueness of The Gambia’s TRRC is its plans to assist victims before sessions end. “We are starting to work on aspects of reparations. We are not going to wait for the end of the truth commission process,” he reiterated.
As the process is unfolding, Dr.Jallow revealed that the TRRC is working with UNICEF and the Victims’ Centre to set up a scholarship fund for children who lost their parents due to Yahya Jammeh’s two-decade long dictatorship to receive some form of support. “We are also trying to indentify victims who are in need of urgent medical attention so that they can be treated.”
Dr. Jallow said the commission is planning to build a monument for the victims of the April 11 and 11 students massacre. He urged the media to help sensitise the public over these critical issues. He wants the public to understand that “reparation is not all about money.”
However, an Adviser to the Ministry of Justice warned against a repetition of Sierra Leone’s transitional justice process in The Gambia. Hussein Thomasi said the United Nations invested almost $300 million to assist the country to navigate through the transition process.
“They had a Special Court and international judges. The building that was put up to house the Special Court is still there. After the process, the court ended up trying 9 people,” he remarked.
Years after the end of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), Mr. Thomasi said some victims are still living in camps. “Some of them are still crying for reparations. The minimum amount ranging from 300 to 500 dollars was never given,” he deplored.
Thomasi said a similar situation occurred in Rwanda, prompting some people to say they should not have brought the UN court. “Many Rwandan victims are with the view that giving them the money would have served justice.”
For his part, Maurice Engueleguele, a senior Program Officer at International IDEA, said their Stockholm-based Scientific Analysis Unit did a mapping of all articles published in the country over these past three years that were centered on the issue of reparations. “The articles addressed the issue from a general perspective. There is no clarity about legal justice versus social justice,” he said.
In light of this situation, he said the recommendation that stands out is that there is an urgent need to do more civic education on the Gambian Model. “The issue will grow in importance when the first case of reparation comes out,” he warned.
The Chair of Victims’ Center, Sheriff Kijera, acknowledged different forms of reparations. But Mr. Kijera agreed that monetary compensation will be based on need assessment.

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